What does a ski pass cost the ‘late bird’? | AspenTimes.com

What does a ski pass cost the ‘late bird’?

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

When it comes to season ski passes, the earlier you buy, the cheaper they are. But one true measure of ski area value is still the top price a resort charges for an unrestricted full season pass.

Front Range skiers can now routinely buy $300 season passes for Copper, Winter Park, Keystone, Breckenridge and other Colorado resorts that are seeking to turn fickle Front Range skiers into loyal customers.

And some resorts are now so focused on early-season pass sales, they can’t yet tell you what a full season pass will cost in December. That includes the Heavenly ski area, now owned by Vail Resorts, and the Copper Mountain and Winter Park ski areas.

Copper could, however, reveal the $999 price for its Beeline Pass, which offers, in essence, line-cutting privileges to those willing to pay more to bypass the crowds.

That’s a trend that few other ski areas seem willing to embrace for now, although it could mark the start of a new value-added trend in season passes.

“I don’t want to go there,” said Pat O’Donnell, president and CEO of the Aspen Skiing Co. “I think it really enhances the [feeling of] haves and have-nots in a community.”

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At most resorts, early-season discounts end and full prices for season passes go into effect in October or November.

And it’s not entirely irrelevant information, despite the clear penalty for late purchase and the myriad other options, such as 10-day passes, now offered by many ski areas.

For there is at least one young stockbroker in New York City who is almost certain that his mid-December year-end bonus check is going to be small and come with a pink slip.

And he or she has already decided that if that happens, then that former stockbroker is going to take the winter off and go skiing. Every day. With a full season pass. Maybe in Jackson. Maybe in Sun Valley. Maybe in Telluride.

So a ranking of major resorts by their highest pass prices might be at least useful for someone like that.

@ATD Sub heds:Pricey!

@ATD body copy: Jackson Hole claims the top spot this year at $1,830 for a full season, all-lift pass with no restrictions and no blackout dates.

“We have been fortunate to stay away from the season pass wars,” said Jerry Blann, president of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which is known for its vast amount of expert terrain and access to excellent backcountry skiing.

And like many ski passes these days, Jackson’s full pass also includes other benefits, such as acting as a local bus pass and being good for summer tram rides.

Full season passes are popular in Jackson, although about half of the skiers and riders there get passes through their employers at a 30 percent discount, while many others buy them at a discount in August, when they cost $1,495.

“We held prices this year,” Blann said of the resort’s top pass. “And we’ve added two pretty important value-added elements.”

Blann is a former head of the Aspen Skiing Co. who got in some trouble here for his approach to ski pass prices. His philosophy ? dubbed “Mercedes pricing” by some ? was that Aspen was the best ski area in the country, so it ought to charge the highest prices.

Sun Valley was second on the list with a top price of $1,799, followed by the Aspen Skiing Co. at $1,699 for a four-mountain unrestricted season pass.

“A large percentage of our total use is from the four-mountain Premier Pass,” said O’Donnell. “People who buy them ski a lot. And the majority of them are sold during the super-early period.”

The cheapest full season pass prices from the Skico this August were $1,399, or $999 for employees of Aspen Chamber Resort Association members and their employees.

While O’Donnell points out there is “added value” by being able to choose from the Skico’s four mountains, some other multimountain unrestricted ski passes do have lower prices.

Whistler/Blackcomb in Canada offers two big mountains for the top price of $1,594, while Vail Resorts sells unlimited access to five mountains ? Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin ? for $1,549.

“We sell several hundred of them,” said Bill Jensen, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. “They are for people who can better meet their needs from an opportunity-to-use-it standpoint versus the cost of the pass.”

Or, to put it another way, unfettered access to a bunch of ski slopes can be worth the money.

In Colorado, Telluride charges the most for a one-mountain full pass at $1,350.

In Utah, Alta is at $895 for the season, Snowbird is at $999 and the new Alta/Snowbird combo pass is $1,300.

And locally, Sunlight Mountain Resort offers skiers an all-access pass for $450, no matter how long a skier procrastinates.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]